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Fenix Wulfheart

Avernum Tabletop RPG

9 posts in this topic

I've been kicking around some ideas of a way to convert the delicious Avernum rules into the tabletop format. I'd really like to see the ability to expand the stories we can tell beyond the limitations of a CRPG. I've already got some basic ideas for how I want to do this, most likely with a D100 system sort of like Dark Heresy to start. The biggest thing I want to see is the idea of "levels" in various skills adjusting the chances for success in 5% increments, with additional levels taking more skill points to attain...so I could also go with a simple D20 variant. Each 5% is akin to +1 on a D20, so we could take things like Element Resist levels and use them directly instead of converting to %. Skill levels could be used directly too.

 

Another major design goal would be to expand the magic system of the world to allow for things we have seen all the way back in Exile. I'd like to see characters that can mass-haste and mass-bless whole armies with the right spell. It really brings home the difference in power level between different characters in the world. Some talented Blademasters could fully expect to stride into a horde of 20 men at arms, and walk out the other side only mildly fatigued and totally uninjured. I want my system to have this kind of robust scaling, where level in your trained-up skills *really* matters.

 

One thing I don't care for in the games is the idea of "Character level" so strongly determining hit points. The difference between an Endurance 14 Level 3 character and an Endurance 6 Level 35 character is astonishing. I'd rather see Endurance, Hardiness, and maybe something else affecting Health in the same manner that Spell Skill and Intelligence affect Spell Points. Maybe have level, but make Level a static bonus health amount and not a multiplicative increaser. Were I to craft a system for the game, ideally Level would be important but not overpowering instead of the other way around. Or Level wouldn't be in it at all, instead favoring other ways to increase various chances to succeed, and then skill levels matter more (not to mention easier formulas, since as far as I can tell in the CRPGs Level affects like EVERYthing).

 

Spell Bonus is a hidden stat in the game that would be not-so-hidden in the tabletop game. You would have similar entries for melee and ranged to-hit and power indicators, which are written in advance in order to reduce in-session math. It's sort of necessary to make a game like this any kind of fast-paced to have these chances and modifiers pre-recorded, especially as multiple skills affect them.

 

This would also mean that having accuracy over 95% affect damage would be easily possible. If you have Avoid chance 35% and I have To-Hit 150%, its easy to see my To-Hit becomes 115%. That difference means +4 Damage, if I included that as part of the system. Its overly granular, so I am on the fence about it, but it is certainly possible. On the bright side, this means that it is a simple matter to determine just how much difference there is between hitting an Aranea with your sword and hitting a heavily armored Level 30 Blademaster with an Enchanted Shield of Parrying. Even if you DO hit, the damage difference would make you sit up and take notice!

 

Anyway. I can ramble about specifics later. This is just a general idea post, to start.

 

What I'd like to know is:

-What level of interest can I expect from the community - if I post this up, could I count on playtesters?

-What legal issues would be involved in this? Do you think I should contact SWS directly before pursuing this idea? Do you think that this becoming an actual product for distribution under their umbrella could be a realistic goal?

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There have been previous attempts of various thoroughness at making tabletop Avernum, mostly based on d20. I don't think there was ever much effort to playtest. I know I'm not volunteering.

 

Legally, I think Spiderweb doesn't care if you make a fan game until and unless you start independently distributing it, especially if you're selling it. If you're even thinking about that you need to talk to Spiderweb.

 

All that said, Avernum as a setting is one that's interesting and that I've mined for tabletop ideas. Avernum game mechanics are fairly bland, don't actually reflect the setting very well, and aren't particularly friendly to tabletop. You're thinking about what is, as best I can tell, an attempt at a ground-up new rules system. There are many, many, many systems for fantasy, or fantasy-friendly generic systems. They run the gamut from ultra-cruncny to rules-light. Other than mimicking Avernum's mechanics, which I already think isn't particularly laudable in itself for a tabletop game, what are you going for? If you can articulate a niche that isn't served that you're designing for, then you have reason to bring your own iteration on the generic-ish fantasy game to fruition.

 

—Alorael, who for the record thinks D&D/d20/Pathfinder hits very close to the mark on having mechanics that match the world of Avernum. A few tweaks on spells, mostly to limit thinks like teleportation ruining the entire concept of Avernum, and you're pretty much good to go, with the advantage that you didn't have to create a new system and you have one lots of people are familiar with and like. And he says this as someone who isn't a huge fan of D&D/d20/Pathfinder, generally.

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Well some of the game mechanics of Exile came from D&D from the to hit system. The hard part is always game balance so it doesn't favor a class or the party becomes too powerful too quickly.

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Posted (edited)

I am looking for a true classless game with multiple skill paths to the same result (RE: You could learn Pole Weapons to 30 and be amazing, or you could learn Pole Weapons 22 and Blademaster 8 and be just as good, etc), which includes the superiority of some (rare) skills over others, and uses the Avernum setting AND the Avernum mechanical "feel". If the game doesn't "feel" like playing Avernum, I will have failed. Also noting that the Pole Weapons 30 guy used many more skill points for overall less versatility, that is definitely an important part.

 

I considered Pathfinder, but found it problematic for a number of reasons. Classes are too limiting. The Spell Level system with Vancian style magic is nothing like Avernum. Spells are well defined in Pathfinder but ultimately too inflexible (eventually, at a high enough level the spell "caps out" on most variables and all mages are exactly alike unless they use Metamagic). Eventually, what differentiates mages is their spell selection, not their spell power. Indeed, Avernum is the opposite in a lot of respects - what sets mages apart is their power moreso than their spell selection. They need to know stronger spells - mass haste instead of haste, Greater Fireblast (L3) instead of Fireblast (L1), and they also need a higher Spell Bonus. That Spell bonus does not cap out in Avernum. That's part of the feel I am going for.

 

The unbalanced nature of some character archetypes make less sense in Pathfinder - for example, the Hedge Wizard that mixes mage and priest spells will suck in Pathfinder but is amazing in Avernum. In both games they will be bad at HtH, but Avernum encourages Generalization AND Specialization. That's part of its charm for me. Many paths, one love.

 

As you say, Randomizer, my biggest worry is DEFINITELY the party becoming too powerful too quickly. That's the rub. To that end, I want to use the scaling Skill Point costs of the Avernum games, but I am thinking of making the scales steeper. Slow the power creep curve down, because we aren't trying to fit reaching that awesome level of power into a short span of time. :)

 

In no particular order, I definitely want the following goals to be met:

-Multiple skill paths to the same result

-Social skills and abilities. Martial and Magical might or general sneakiness are not the only paths to power. Economic and political power matter too.

-Some skills are blatantly superior to others, but are commensurately rarer. A new skill you may train in is thus an actual quest award, which lends a sense of "being special" to the PC. Especially if I do what later Avernum titles did, and say that a skill is locked until you meet certain requirements. Then the skill is like a Prestige Skill, if you will, and when the skill becomes available the characters who leveled in certain ways may not have the opportunity to learn it.

-Character Traits exist and very much matter. Their bonus continues to be useful or detrimental for a long time, and so does the Exp adjustment.

-Skill levels can be directly awarded via quest rewards, MAYBE paid for with gold and in-game time to some defined limits if the GM is willing (and can maintain control of balance...), learned from crystals, etc. This is not a character level yet is a marked power increase, which I always felt *feels* much more like a reward than just Exp.

-Opened up magic rules, allowing for spells to be developed and for many kinds of spell to be cast. Spell point costs proportionate to the effect and effort involved. Begin with mapping all spells that we have seen in the game to the system, probably using the Avernum 3 spells as my first base and expanding from there.

-Characters can continue to train if they can get enough skill points, but getting skill points gets harder and harder as they gain them. The truly exceptional characters of the Avernum world with their awesome power can be modeled without recourse to arbitrarily saying "well they are just this many levels higher than you, so advantage". Enemy skill levels and traits matter, too. Some characters really are almost invincible, given favorable circumstances. Think Garzahd when you do not have Demon-slaying stuff.

-Buffs matter. I know a lot of Avernum players say that the buffs are too strong. I'm in the camp that thinks that buffs are part of the soul of the system, part of what makes it great. But what the game has always lacked IMO is intelligent enemy use of buffs. In tabletop? The GM makes that call. Think about it.

-Import the later Avernum games combat disciplines, probably.

-More realistic health rules. In Pathfinder and in Avernum, there is this artificial Health inflation that makes high level characters so much better than low level ones. I want skill levels in Dexterity, Defense, Hardiness, etc...to take the place of this inflation. I want that Empire Dervish to have 120 Health, not 400. I want my Level 50 mage to have 60 Health, not 320. Skill based Health rather than Level-based Health is the way to go. As far as I can see, all the purposes Level serves in Avernum can be replicated with skill levels too. The levels just add extra bonuses. So I could feasibly make the system NOT need Levels at all, to determine things. In short, I want equipment and training to matter more than number of monsters killed when it comes to how hard you are to kill.

Edited by Fenix Wulfheart
Clarification and additions

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58 minutes ago, Fenix Wulfheart said:

The unbalanced nature of some character archetypes make less sense in Pathfinder - for example, the Hedge Wizard that mixes mage and priest spells will suck in Pathfinder but is amazing in Avernum. In both games they will be bad at HtH, but Avernum encourages Generalization AND Specialization. That's part of its charm for me. Many paths, one love.

I assume from the above that you are talking primarily about the original First Avernum Trilogy and definitely not the remakes (which are the opposite of this).

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On 5/15/2017 at 0:01 PM, Shut Your Eyes and said:

I assume from the above that you are talking primarily about the original First Avernum Trilogy and definitely not the remakes (which are the opposite of this).

I haven't played enough of the new ones to know. Is that the case? Branching out is a bad idea in the new ones?

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32 minutes ago, Fenix Wulfheart said:

I haven't played enough of the new ones to know. Is that the case? Branching out is a bad idea in the new ones?

Yeah, in the new trilogy, linear skill point costs and the existence of skill trees mean that specialization is encouraged rather than discouraged, and there's really only enough points available for each character to do one thing well; a few points in priest spells for basic healing can be viable on any character, and spellcasters can pick up a few points in weapon skills purely for the battle disciplines, but that's about the limit of how far it's worth going with generalization.

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The Second Trilogy, meanwhile, was a little bit in between.  The mechanics had some things that favored branching out (e.g., increasing skill point costs) and some things that favored specializing (e.g., having 4 different skills to invest in to power melee damage).  The bigger shift -- and this affects A4-6 as well as the remakes of A1-2 -- was the shift to auto-generated, generic defensive stats for enemies, along with the funneling of almost all spell effects into either damage, healing, or status effects.  Spell variety could lead to neat tactical things when there were more options with walls, summons, and the like.  Without that, the enduringly useful battle skills converged on dealing damage, while at the same time, fewer enemies cared what type of damage they were hit with.

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That sounds...less complex. The basic tactics would be dumbed down in that case. No offense intended to anyone with that.

 

I did start up the remake of the original Avernum at one point, and was pleasantly surprised to find traits earned over the course of leveling. That's a neat idea and all, which would fit well as feats if I went with a Pathfinder interpretation. :)

 

I would want to focus my tabletop efforts at the Original Trilogy era, and also at the original Exile era. Basically, I want to take the variety and choice that was present in Exile 3 and couple it with the IMO superior system of the Avernum Trilogy as well as the special effects of the Avernum games - like the Abilities, such as Go Berzerk - and make a game that allows for the breadth of choices and multiple paths to success that those games had. I like the concept of gradually increasing skill costs, but what I don't always like is the concept of a level cap and limited skill points for growth. I prefer for my games to allow continuous leveling with the cap set on each skill, not on overall number of skills. Sometimes I prefer no cap at all, allowing increasing costs serve as the cap instead.

 

I've actually started writing it already. I intend to at least play it at home with my usual gang. This forum topic was moooostly to see if others would want me to share it, and to ask the more sociable community members who would know whether these efforts are worth expanding. If there is a lot of interest I'd bring it up to the core team and see if they would be interested in giving tabletop a go. Since I can't exactly fund print costs myself, though, I know that it would be a dicey proposition. ;)

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